410: Unit 1

United States, Colonial Era to Civil War, Fall 2023

The Colonial Period 

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3

1.  Introduction: American History in Global Perspective


In class we will try to learn each other's names and go over the syllabus. Then we'll watch Human history in one short video and read a brief excerpt from James C. Scott, Against the Grain: "A Narrative in Tatters"; and a David Brooks column, "The Great Affluence Fallacy" and try to place American history into a deep, global history of humanity.

2. Free "Barbarians" and Freeborn Englishmen

READ: Alan Taylor, American Colonies, x-xiii and 4-5 (a book); Handouts, Charles Mann, from 1491.

Read documents in the order they are listed above.

Notes: Taylor explores the notion of “American exceptionalism.” What does he mean by the phrase? In your view, is the American story a “fundamentally happy” one? What is the distinction between civil liberty and political liberty? What is the connection between liberty and property? How does Winthrop define liberty?  You can view some of John White's renderings of the people he encountered in North America at this website.

3. The Colonial Background: Virginia

READ: Taylor, American Colonies, 117-123, 129-137; Handouts, Richard Hakluyt, Discourse of Western Planting; John Smith, Smith Puts the Colonists to Work; and Microbes and the Natives.

Notes: What brought the English colonists to Virginia? Who came? Assess the effects of European contact with the natives of North America. What were the ramifications of widespread tobacco cultivation in the Chesapeake?

4. The Colonial Background: New England

READ: Taylor, American Colonies, 159-172; Handout, John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity”

Notes: How and why did New England patterns of settlement differ from those of Virginia? What were the Puritans seeking? Read the Winthrop selection carefully. What do you think of his model for a community? What are its main features?

5. Slavery in Virginia

Alan Taylor, American Colonies, 142-144, 146-157. (In class, we'll look at the Virginia Slave Laws document.)

Notes: What factors caused slavery take root in the Chesapeake colonies? How did the institution evolve and why did Virginians’ racial attitudes develop as they did? 

In case you are interested, Taylor’s account of the development of slavery, race, and what we might call white privilege, is taken from Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom, a book that Taylor refers to as “the twentieth century’s best historical work on American origins.” Here is a brief discussion of that book and it’s influence on American historiography (optional reading).

First assignment: an evolving study guide. 

6. King Philip’s War 

READ: Taylor, American Colonies, 188 (top)-191; Handouts, Excepts from Jill Lepore, “Habitations of Cruelty,” from The Name of War: King Philip’s War and the Origins of American Identity.

Read Taylor first, then Lepore

Notes: What were the main causes of King Philip’s War? How is it the colonists felt entitled to claim Indian land in New England? What is the significance of the English recording the number of houses destroyed before tallying the colonists' killed and wounded? What does Lepore's phrase "the moral vocabulary of war" (88) suggest?

7. Bible Commonwealth

READ: Taylor, American Colonies, 178-186; Handout, from Diary of Samuel Sewall

Notes: How did the Puritans account for calamity? What made them so jittery toward the close of the 17th century? How do you explain the persistence of witchcraft in 17th century New England? What does the Sewall diary suggest about how New Englanders viewed the world? What do you take the Puritan legacy to be?

8. Great Awakening

READ: Taylor, American Colonies, 342-351; and in the 410 Documents book: Edwards, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”; Franklin, “The Way to Wealth”; Marilynne Robinson, “Jonathan Edwards and the Spider."

WATCH: Exeter History Minute on the Whitefield monument.

Notes: What factors touched off the colony-wide outbreak of religious enthusiasm in the 1730s? In what ways do Edwards and Franklin reflect conflicting colonial values? What, if anything, do they have in common? Which viewpoint seems more typical of colonial America?  WATCH: Exeter History Minute on the Whitefield monument.

9. First assessment. You will find the assignment under the Assignments tab over on the left side of this web page.

Intro | 1 | 2 | 3